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Feb 20, 2012

Jewish Hockey Player Representing Germany

I am always intrigued by Jews, especially descendants of Holocaust survivors and/or victims, who move to Germany. The general reason until now has been either to get out of Russia, or for financial reasons (many Israelis have moved there in the past 10 years or so).

One fellow has moved to Germany to play hockey. He was not drafted by any team in the NH, so when he was offered the opportunity to play professional sports in Germany he decided to take it. Citizenship was expedited, as he descends from German Jews. Not only is Evan Kaufmann playing hockey in Germany, but he is always on the national team, representing Germany in international tournaments.

From the New York Times:
A hockey jersey hung in each player’s locker. It bore Germany’s national colors, black trimmed in red and gold. The front was emblazoned with an eagle above the word Deutschland. This would be Evan Kaufmann’s first time wearing the jersey. He removed it from the hanger and turned it around to see his family name spelled in capital letters.

Evan Kaufmann is the second-leading goal scorer for the DEG Metro Stars. Some players wear their national flags on the back of their jerseys. Kaufmann, an American, has a German flag sewn on.
He would recall feeling a tingle of excitement. He felt something else, too, emotions that crisscrossed like the laces of his skates. He was proud to wear the jersey but also solemn about what history had done to the name on the back. His great-grandfather starved to death by the Nazis. His great-grandmother herded to extermination on a train to Auschwitz. His grandfather shuttled between ghettos and concentration camps, surviving somehow, finding a displaced sister after the war, pushing her from a hospital in a wheelbarrow after her lower left leg was amputated because of frostbite.

On Feb. 10, Kaufmann finished dressing and skated onto the ice at a tournament in Belarus. With his initial shift, he became one of the few Jews to represent Germany in elite international sports since World War II, the first in ice hockey since the 1930s and perhaps the most visible to have had family members murdered in the Holocaust, according to sports historians and Jewish officials.

“It was almost surreal,” said Kaufmann, 27, a forward who was born in Minnesota and is the second-leading goal scorer here for the DEG Metro Stars of the German professional league. “From an achievement standpoint, it was amazing to represent the country. But it was pretty insane to think about what my grandpa had to survive to allow me to be where I am today and how it’s come a long way from then to now.”

He came to Germany four years ago, not as a symbol but as a yearning hockey player. Slight at 5 feet 9 inches and 165 pounds, undrafted by the N.H.L. out of the University of Minnesota in 2008, Kaufmann found his best pro opportunity in perhaps the least likely place. The country where his great-grandparents and other relatives were murdered now offered him accelerated citizenship because of his family’s brutalized past.

In hockey terms, Kauffmann is considered fully German, eligible for the national team, unbound by restrictions on the number of foreigners allowed to play in the domestic pro league.

On his Düsseldorf club team, some international players wear a small flag on their jerseys denoting their home countries. Kaufmann displays the German flag.

“With each year, you do feel a little more loyalty toward Germany, a stronger connection,” he said. “I still consider myself more American, but from a hockey standpoint, I’ve committed myself to Germany. It’s something I’m proud about.”

In June, Kaufmann’s wife, Danielle, 25, is due to give birth to the couple’s first child. As fatherhood approaches and news of his personal story begins to spread, there is an issue beyond hockey to consider: while the murder of six million Jews was a barbaric collective, forgiveness among their descendants must be individual. Has enough time passed? Will enough time ever pass? Each must decide for himself.

“Obviously, you never want to forget,” Kaufmann said. “But everybody deserves a second chance and a right to rectify their mistakes. Most people today had nothing to do with it. I’m not going to hold it against a whole country for what happened long ago. You’re never going to move forward if you keep doing that.”

You can read the full article in the NYT.

It must have been a tough decision to make. Germany is obviously not yet back to where it was, with just a handful of jews in the public eye, but the past is clearly on its way to being forgiven...

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